Liverpool will take on Italian giants AC Milan in the Guinness International Champions Cup on Saturday, and a win over the Rossoneri will guarantee Brendan Rodgers' squad a spot in the pre-season tournament's final.
The 2014 ICC is about much more than winning the first trophy of the campaign for the Reds, but their good form this early in the season has to be encouraging. The new signings have adapted to the surroundings quickly, and Liverpool look ready to start the 2014-15 Premier League season.
Pippo Inzaghi's start to life in Milan has been difficult, with the team conceding eight goals in its first two matches. The Rossoneri are rebuilding, but they'd like to end their 2014 ICC run with a solid performance and carry some momentum into the Serie A season.
Date: Saturday, August 2
Time: 11.30 p.m. BST/6:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Form Guide, Preview
Liverpool beat Manchester City and Olympiacos to rise all the way to the top of Group B; Milan have lost to both and will likely finish the tournament in last place.
This is pre-season, however—results don't really matter. Sure, the Reds would love to beat Milan, go on to win the ICC final and enter the new season with momentum on their side, but the team's progression during the tournament is far more important than the actual result.
From that perspective, Liverpool have to feel good about how things have played out. The new signings already look like they could have a big impact this season, and the young squad is dealing with adversity very well.
The Reds' win over Olympiacos showed character and the squad's resilience to defend a small lead against a strong opponent. The comeback against City showcased the right attitude on the pitch and a willingness to battle for a result even in pre-season.
Milan's run in the tournament has been the complete opposite so far. The 3-0 loss against the Greeks was embarrassing—the 5-1 against the Citizens was even worse. The Rossoneri are still looking for an identity, and more than any other team present at the tournament, they're building toward the future.
The 2013-14 season was a nightmare for Milan, and Inzaghi is effectively starting with his team at one of the lowest points they've been in decades. Despite the bad results, the players are optimistic. As shared by the club's official Twitter account, Stephan El Shaarawy likes what he's seeing from his teammates:
In many ways, Saturday's match should resemble where both clubs are right now: Liverpool are looking for a result, while Milan are just preparing for the new season. The Liverpool Echo's Kristian Walsh believes the Reds will have to win to guarantee a spot in the final:
Pretty sure Liverpool still realistically need to beat Milan to advance to the final as I can't see Olympiakos taking anything from City.— Kristian Walsh (@Kristian_Walsh) July 31, 2014
Expect Liverpool to treat this match as they would a Champions League qualifier or an early cup fixture: Keep things relatively safe on a tactical level and make sure fitness doesn't become an issue.
For Milan, this is just another friendly and a chance to see which tactics suit the starting XI best. Don't be surprised if supertalent Hachim Mastour gets an extended run against the Reds—their young squad would present an excellent platform for the 16-year-old to show what he can do.